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September 22, 2011

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Foundry worker fell into unguarded pit of molten metal

A worker has been left with permanent scars after he fell into an unfenced pit at a foundry in Stoke-on-Trent and was scorched by molten metal.

Fenton Magistrates’ Court heard that a 28-year-old man, who wishes to remain anonymous, was working at Copper Alloys Ltd’s facility in Burslem, when the incident took place on 5 May 2010. The company produces specialist copper alloys, which are used in the engineering sector.

The man was working in the slab-casting section, scraping off impurities from the top of a freshly poured casting with the use of a long-handled t-shaped scraper bar. The casting was located inside a mould pool, which was positioned in a five-foot-deep pit. As he was holding the tool, he lost his balance and fell into an unfenced gap between the mould pool and the pit.

He used the tool to try to stop himself from falling into the pit, but landed on the edge of the mould and his arm was briefly immersed in the molten metal. He then slumped on to a pile of the burning hot impurities, which had been scraped from the mould. His skin was exposed to temperatures between 900OC and 1200OC and he suffered serious burns to his arm and upper legs. He required several skin grafts and has been left with permanent scarring. He has been unable to return to work owing to his injuries.

On visiting the site in June 2010, HSE inspectors found that the company had already taken action to install fencing around the gap to prevent workers from being able to fall into the pit.

HSE inspector Grayam Barnes told SHP that the company had failed to carry out a suitable risk assessment, which would have identified the need for fencing. He said: “This incident has had a permanent, life-changing effect on an employee. He has been unable to return to work and still needs physiotherapy.

“This case highlights the consequences of failing to recognise dangers arising from an unfenced pit. Copper Alloys should have identified and mitigated the risk.”

Copper Alloys appeared in court on 19 September and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 3(5) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, for failing to cover, or fence access to the pit. It was fined £8000 and ordered to pay £4798 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it had contracted a health and safety consultancy to help it carry out risk assessments at the site, but the contractor had let it down by failing to identify the risks. It deeply regrets this oversight and entered an early guilty plea. The company has no previous convictions.

Inspector Barnes added: “Falling into the pit was foreseeable and likely to cause serious, or even fatal, injuries with the presence of molten metal in this work area.

“Companies, particularly those working with dangerous substances, must ensure they fit suitable guard railings, or covers to protect their workers.”

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10 years ago

It didn’t require a consultant to identify this risk. Primary responsibility quite rightly lies with the employer. Why try to palm it off to someone else?

10 years ago

What concerns me about this is the fact that the Co had instructed a consultant who had failed them. Was anything done about this ‘consultancy’ and its lack of proper advice?